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The Opt-In Revolution? Contraception and the Gender Gap in Wages

  • Martha J. Bailey
  • Brad Hershbein
  • Amalia R. Miller

Decades of research on the US gender gap in wages describes its correlates, but little is known about why women changed their career paths in the 1960s and 1970s. This paper explores the role of "the Pill" in altering women's human capital investments and its ultimate implications for life-cycle wages. Using state-by-birthcohort variation in legal access, we show that younger access to the Pill conferred an 8 percent hourly wage premium by age 50. Our estimates imply that the Pill can account for 10 percent of the convergence of the gender gap in the 1980s and 30 percent in the 1990s. (JEL J13, J16, J31, J71, J24)

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

Volume (Year): 4 (2012)
Issue (Month): 3 (July)
Pages: 225-54

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aejapp:v:4:y:2012:i:3:p:225-54
Note: DOI: 10.1257/app.4.3.225
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  1. Chinhui Juhn & Sandra E. Black, 2000. "The Rise of Female Professionals: Are Women Responding to Skill Demand?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 450-455, May.
  2. Martha J. Bailey & Brad Hershbein & Amalia R. Miller, 2012. "The Opt-In Revolution? Contraception and the Gender Gap in Wages," NBER Working Papers 17922, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Blau, Francine D & Kahn, Lawrence M, 1997. "Swimming Upstream: Trends in the Gender Wage Differential in 1980s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 1-42, January.
  4. Bruce A. Weinberg, 2000. "Computer Use and the Demand for Female Workers," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 53(2), pages 290-308, January.
  5. Martha J Bailey, 2006. "More Power to the Pill: The Impact of Contraceptive Freedom on Women's Life Cycle Labor Supply," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(1), pages 289-320, 02.
  6. Dinardo, J. & Fortin, N.M. & Lemieux, T., 1994. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: a Semiparametric Approach," Cahiers de recherche 9406, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
  7. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2007. "Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 27-52, Spring.
  8. Claudia Goldin, 2006. "The Quiet Revolution that Transformed Women's Employment, Education, and Family," NBER Working Papers 11953, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Sandra E. Black & Alexandra Spitz-Oener, 2010. "Explaining Women's Success: Technological Change and the Skill Content of Women's Work," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(1), pages 187-194, February.
  10. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2002. "The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women's Career and Marriage Decisions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(4), pages 730-770, August.
  11. Bruce A. Weinberg, 2000. "Computer use and the demand for female workers," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 53(2), pages 290-308, January.
  12. O'Neill, June & Polachek, Solomon, 1993. "Why the Gender Gap in Wages Narrowed in the 1980s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(1), pages 205-28, January.
  13. Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat & Daniel M. Hungerman, 2012. "The Power of the Pill for the Next Generation: Oral Contraception's Effects on Fertility, Abortion, and Maternal and Child Characteristics," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 94(1), pages 37-51, February.
  14. Daron Acemoglu & David H. Autor & David Lyle, 2004. "Women, War, and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Midcentury," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 497-551, June.
  15. Alison J. Wellington, 1993. "Changes in the Male/Female Wage Gap, 1976-85," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 28(2), pages 383-411.
  16. Katz, Lawrence F. & Goldin, Claudia D., 2011. "Putting the "Co" in Education: Timing, Reasons, and Consequences of College Coeduction from 1835 to the Present," Scholarly Articles 8642950, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  17. Pierre-André Chiappori & Sonia Oreffice, 2008. "Birth Control and Female Empowerment: An Equilibrium Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 116(1), pages 113-140, 02.
  18. Qingyan Shang & Bruce A. Weinberg, 2009. "Opting For Families: Recent Trends in the Fertility of Highly Educated Women," NBER Working Papers 15074, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Amalia Miller, 2011. "The effects of motherhood timing on career path," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 24(3), pages 1071-1100, July.
  20. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709, March.
  21. Alan S. Blinder, 1973. "Wage Discrimination: Reduced Form and Structural Estimates," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 8(4), pages 436-455.
  22. Casey B. Mulligan & Yona Rubinstein, 2008. "Selection, Investment, and Women's Relative Wages Over Time," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(3), pages 1061-1110, August.
  23. Heinrich Hock, 2007. "The Pill and the College Attainment of American Women and Men," Working Papers wp2007_10_01, Department of Economics, Florida State University.
  24. Alessandra Fogli & Raquel Fernandez, 2009. "Culture: An Empirical Investigation of Beliefs, Work, and Fertility," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 146-77, January.
  25. Goldin, Claudia, 2004. "The Long Road to the Fast Track: Career and Family," Scholarly Articles 2920116, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  26. Raquel Fernández & Alessandra Fogli & Claudia Olivetti, 2004. "Mothers and Sons: Preference Formation and Female Labor Force Dynamics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(4), pages 1249-1299, November.
  27. Ronald Oaxaca, 1971. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," Working Papers 396, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  28. Melanie Guldi, 2008. "Fertility effects of abortion and birth control pill access for minors," Demography, Springer, vol. 45(4), pages 817-827, November.
  29. Suqin Ge, 2011. "Women’s College Decisions: How Much Does Marriage Matter?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(4), pages 773 - 818.
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